Special NASA jet testing Bay Area air quality

(KGO)
January 31, 2013 7:26:45 PM PST
An aircraft that looked like a fighter jet seen making low passes over the Bay Area Thursday is the latest weapon scientists are using to fight air pollution, an airborne lab that could someday allow us to breathe cleaner air.

The small jet was on a target-specific mission Thursday. It was out to capture ozone and greenhouse gases over the Bay Area in the never-ending battle to control air pollution. One of the under wing pods is equipped as an airborne science lab. Intakes on the bottom sample the air then exhaust it out the back. Computers do real-time measurement and analysis.

The mission is a partnership of Nasa Ames, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, and other agencies. "We're hoping to have an understanding of the air that flows into the Bay Area so that the models that the Air Quality District runs can use the proper input conditions to understand how much of it we're being given and how much of it we're producing ourselves," NASA scientist Laura Iraci said.

The jet stream can deliver pollution from Asia to California. That means conditions in Beijing can have an impact here. "Anything that's dealing with other parts of the world will eventually come to us locally here in the Bay Area and the effect of that is we have to know about it, as well as health issues, as well as other issues that concern us," said NASA Atmospheric Science Branch Chief Warren Gore.

As the jet took off from Moffett Field, the primary focus was measuring low-level pollution, generally under 1,200 feet, from Santa Rosa to Salinas and out over the Pacific Coast. However, researchers say they also need to factor in pollution at higher levels. "Things like mountains and just kind of general heating up the land, all help mix the atmosphere, so we need to have a look at what's coming above and what can possibly be mixed down and influence us on the surface," Climate Researcher Emma Yates said.

It's hoped the long-term study will help reduce pollution. "That will help us determine what we might need to do in the future to further regulate or curb certain pollutants so that we don't have air pollution problems," said Lisa Fasano with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

Thursday marked only the beginning of research into Bay Area air pollution. Eventually, satellites will be going up as well as the agencies continue to coordinate and to study pollution

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